Tree cutting began this month at Hunter Mountain for a $9 million project to add five trails to the ski area.
The newly christened Hunter North ski area is scheduled to open for the 2018-19 ski season. Workers will carve the trails into the 4,000-foot mountain’s north face, between its main face and its west side. Planned upgrades include:
• expanding to 64 trails from 58, including adding three intermediate and two beginner trails, and increasing the resort’s cleared land by up to 30 percent.
• adding 43 acres for skiing, on top of the current 240-acre total, with land reserved for a new potential activity area at the mountain’s base.
• installing a high-speed six-person detachable chairlift, with a three-and-half minute ride, from Hunter North’s base to the intersection of the Belt Parkway and Way Out trails.
• creating a 250-car parking lot and a new Town of Jewett entrance, west of the Town of Hunter, accessible from Route 23A via the Denning Road Bridge over Schoharie Creek.
The new trails will connect with Hunter’s existing routes, giving skiers and hikers more options between the mountain’s base, at 1,600 feet above sea level, and its highest trail head, at 3,200 feet.
“This is the kind of project that has an impact across the region,” said Jeff Friedman, president and executive director of Greene County Chamber of Commerce, who is pleased that drivers will travel past more local businesses to get to the new entrance. “It’s going to allow other businesses in the area to grow.”
Hunter North is the mountain’s biggest upgrade since a 2011 lift addition, its first major terrain alterations in recent memory, and a rare Northeast project to add trails in the last 15 years, said Jesse Boyd, vice president of operations for Peak Resorts, which owns the mountain.
The expansion also is the biggest mark yet made by the mountain’s publicly traded St. Louis owner, which bought Hunter from the local Slutzky family in a nearly $40 million deal in late 2015. Peak Resorts, which operates 14 mostly Northeast and Midwest ski areas, declined to share Hunter’s annual attendance or revenue figures. But the mountain was profitable when it was sold 17 months ago, netting $6 million in earnings, before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, on roughly $27 million in annual revenue.
And recent investor guidance from Peak Resorts estimated Hunter North will add up to $2 million in unadjusted net earnings from skiing and additional event space at the mountain’s base, which will allow for more year-round activities like festivals and concerts.
Bulldozed out of a craggy mountainside a state engineering study once deemed unfit for skiing, and cleverly marketed with celebrity support, Hunter Mountain’s 1960 opening, and its heavy use of snow cannons, reinvigorated Catskills tourism.
Snow making will keep playing a part in Hunter’s success as ski areas grapple with global warming, said Norberto Aja, Peak Resorts’ investor relations spokesman.
“It’s been a long, long time since anything was done on that mountain, and this expansion shows we believe in the mountain’s future,” said Aja, who said the mountain’s size and lack of boulders makes it easier to coat with snow. “We’re never going to completely offset Mother Nature, but we can keep improving the mountain for skiers and hikers, while creating better, cheaper snow.”